GETTING YOUR DUCKS IN A ROW

Research is key to building solid, strong, lasting stakeholder relations

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With the recent launch of King IVTM, critical guidance is given to the recommended best practices pertaining to building solid, strong and lasting stakeholder relations*. A key recommendation is that a “…stakeholder-inclusive approach is adopted, which takes into account and balances their legitimate and reasonable needs, interests and expectations”.

It is encouraging to see the focus on the importance of stakeholder relationship management, helping organisations to be considerably more strategic when it comes to engaging with their different audiences. In theory, stakeholder relationship management isn’t a new concept, however, in practice it is something, which
has only recently really started getting a lot more traction.

When I embarked upon my communication management journey 16 years ago, there were very few communication management positions. Marketing was more or less the be-all and end-all when it came to getting your message across. Slowly but surely there has been an awakening when it comes to the importance of communication management and realising that there are different audiences you need to connect with by using different channels and means to get the same message across. It’s not all about selling; introducing new concepts, ideas and building relationships are just as important for the growth and sustainability of a company.

Reputation management ties all the different concepts of stakeholder engagement, communication and marketing together. They can’t work in isolation. You can market extensively and spend millions of Rands on an advertising campaign—or invest a substantial amount of time and resources into a public relations campaign—however, if you a). Don’t align the communication activities (be it marketing or PR) to the organisation’s strategic intent, and b). Have a thorough understanding of your stakeholders in terms of what is important to them and what information they really need from your business (then you may as well be doing target practice with helium-filled balloons instead of bullets). It’s fun and will keep you busy, but you won’t have anything to show for it except a lot of frustration and a lot of wasted time (and balloons).

It also does not help to embark on a marketing campaign if your internal building blocks are not in place. We so often hear about companies that spend considerable amounts on external communication initiatives and who are surprised when it does not result in positive revenue growth. Upon investigation—and we usually don’t have to look too far—questionable leadership or low employee morale negatively impacts the stakeholders’ experience with the company, regardless of how good your ad campaign is. It is not going to motivate your call centre representative to answer the call enthusiastically if they are not inspired and motivated by their daily work life.

It still surprises me, how many companies are shooting in the dark when it comes to their communication efforts. At a recent international conference, delegates were asked what the communication landscape would look like over the course of the coming year. As I watched the video and listened to the feedback from these experts, I realised—excited as I was by their advice—that many communicators are still very operationally focussed. No mention was made about how important it is that all communication should be aligned to the business’ objectives and, most importantly, research.

What better way to adopt a stakeholder-inclusive approach than to conduct sound research to gauge stakeholders’ needs, interest and expectations? Naturally, that would then be followed by using the results to structure a carefully thought-out reputation management strategy and plan.

I confess I do feel rather pleased about being ahead of the curve with our Repudometer® that we’ve developed and refined over the past 12 years. The Repudometer is a research tool that helps organisations to measure and manage their reputations by having a thorough understanding of how their stakeholders perceive them and what parts of the business are of particular interest to them. The tool helps to identify which part of the business is building or breaking down the organisation’s reputation.

At Reputation Matters, we believe that reputation research is the springboard to organisational success. The research results enable companies to pinpoint and bridge gaps, ultimately helping them to build a solid organisational reputation. By conducting research, organisations are armed with results and data that can be used to formulate a communication strategy to be even more favourably perceived by all their key stakeholders.

The Repudometer does not only look at the communication element of an organisation’s reputation but, in addition, 10 dimensions of the organisation are assessed to determine what is impacting the organisation’s reputation positively and negatively and it also narrows down which areas of the business are of particular interest to particular stakeholder groups.

Being able to put a percentage to a reputation is very powerful, as not only does it speak to numbers-orientated management teams, but it also provides an opportunity to have a measure in place to use for future assessments.

The research also helps us to proactively identify possible crisis situations. In one of the studies we conducted, we measured the reputation of 10 stakeholder groups. The client was particularly concerned about their shareholders’ views but, after analysing the results and plotting the feedback on our dashboard, it was very clear that the shareholders were actually quite happy. However, it did highlight that employees were a key concern, as they were very unhappy with the lack of internal communication. The results from the union in turn (unsurprisingly) highlighted a very low score with external communication. If measures were not taken, the company would have faced the prospect of a strike. As a result of the cross-correlation of results and feedback from stakeholders, a potential crisis was averted. The different functions within the business could work together to manage the situation.

Therefore, being able to put a value to your reputation is invaluable to building solid, strong, lasting relations.

Are you eager to continue the reputation conversation? Join Regine on Twitter @ReputationIsKey or Facebook www.facebook.com/yourreputationmatters.

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